Berkeley Breathed speaks

If Opus doesn’t make you squirm, either you’re avoiding it or your local newspaper has balked at the boutique price the Washington Post Co. charges for Berkeley Breathed’s wonderful Sunday-only syndicated strip.

In my case, it’s the latter. (Fools!) But I loved this pretzel of an interview Breathed gave the Onion’s A/V club in 2003. Choice quotes below the fold.

In 1987, a freelance writer for Rolling Stone came out and spent a week with me, then returned to his loft in SoHo, only to find that after he typed in the words, “Big-beaked Berkeley Breathed lives in Iowa with a flatulent mixed-breed lab and has trouble with deadlines,” he couldn’t find anything else to say. Years later, he tried to sell the piece to Penthouse — I’m not making this up — and their fact-checker called to confirm that the writer had watched me get seduced by a woman and her twin teenage daughters in the laundry room of the apartment complex.

Even Trudeau, brilliant as he is, couldn’t do anything much with the last eight years, really. It’s like doing a parody of The National Enquirer. Can’t be done. … Look at George W. Bush. He knows the game. He knows he’s a maroon, as Daffy Duck would say, and refuses to take himself seriously. He cut off our satirist balls. We’re like a gaggle of eunuchs running around the palace, wishing we could hump the princess. The game’s changed forever.

Throughout cartoon history, there aren’t any—repeat, ANY—primary animal cartoon characters that are females. … This isn’t a conspiracy. It’s just nearly impossible, and it has something to do with the metaphorical response that a talking-animal character somehow evokes in the reader.

I can explain why a white boy like myself didn’t write about race: You can’t. You couldn’t then. You can’t now. Don’t touch it. Run. Hide. Smile and say you love everybody equally, and don’t make any jokes as you back out of the room. Race and humor only work in a comedy club with exclusively black comedians. That’s it. There isn’t a shade of a chance for anything resembling a real discussion about race occurring publicly in this country for another… well, ever.

O: Your early strips often referenced Star Trek. Were you a fan of the original show? Do you still watch it?

BB: Oh, don’t go there. Star Trek. It’s like discussing buggy whips. Or it’s been whipped to death by buggy whips. Something. I can’t actually bring myself to see Star Trek again. It’s like trying to discuss the culinary virtues of a loaf of bread found in King Tut’s tomb. Yeck.


3 Responses to Berkeley Breathed speaks

  1. Mark says:

    I am fascinated by his suggestion that there is something intrinsic about anthropomorphized cartoon characters and gender. I will offer a fabulous prize to anyone who can find me a reasonably well-done study on the subject. I agree with him that I can’t think of any such character, but I find the idea very strange. Surely there must be? Is it really true that for some reason there can’t be? The mind boggles.

  2. erik says:

    While I can think of very few exceptions, I’d question his reasoning. There aren’t many female main characters in comics or cartoons at all to start with, so when you then narrow that down further by looking only at funny animal comics and come up with almost nothing I don’t think that means that there’s anything inherently strange about female funny animals.

    That said, the clearest counter-example I can think of off-hand is quite sexually explicit (Omaha, the cat dancer), so maybe there’s at least some truth to it after all… .

  3. TheGnat says:

    It’s true, there aren’t many female comic (primary) characters to begin with, at least in comics originally in English. The first one that pops into mind for me is Jack, which is an online comic that’s self-published in print, and all the characters are anthropomorphic.
    But it’s true, you can’t make a judgement about female anthropomorphic main characters, when it could have to do with any number of other factors. It’s like saying male secretaries aren’t as good, because all the secretaries you’ve ever met were female.

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